Exploring the Solar System

Exploring Mars

How were the Viking spacecraft configured?

Each Viking craft had two parts, an orbiter and a lander. Each orbiter was an eight-sided structure about eight feet (2.4 meters) wide. Most of the spacecraft’s control systems were contained in this body. The rocket engine and fuel tanks were attached to the rear face of the structure. Solar panels extended from another face. Once in space, these panels were extended to a cross-shaped structure about thirty-two feet (ten meters) across. The orbiter also contained a movable platform on which scientific equipment was mounted, including two television cameras and instruments for measuring the temperature and water content of the Martian surface.

Together, the lander and orbiter stood sixteen feet (five meters) tall. The central portion of each lander was a six-sided compartment with alternating longer and shorter sides. Attached to each short side was a landing leg with a circular footpad. A remote control arm for the collection of soil samples, which resembled an extended, pointy fourth leg, protruded from one of the lander’s long sides. Soil samples were transferred to the biological analyzer (which was perched on top of the body) for testing and analysis. Other instruments affixed to the top of the lander included two cylindrical television cameras, a seismometer for measuring Mars-quakes, atmospheric testing devices, and a radio antenna dish. Beneath the lander were rockets that slowed the lander’s descent; the propellant for the rockets were stored in tanks on opposite sides of the lander.


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